After looking back at the year thus far, it’s time to see what’s ahead. This fall is a promising one, full of your usual awards contenders and blockbusters, but also a few from our favorite auteurs, making for much to look forward to. Later this week we will give you a rundown of the best films we’ve already seen and even films on the festival circuit we hope will see a release (update: see here), but for now check out the sure-fire releases below and make sure to let us know what you’re most-anticipating.

20. Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore; Nov. 2nd)

Amidst the drama-heavy fall slate, there’s always room for a little fun. After a massively disappointing year in animation, hopefully Disney can pull out the charm and wits with their videgame-centered Wreck-It Ralph. With Futurama‘s Rich Moore guiding, the film follows a Donkey Kong-esque bad guy who switches sides, brought to life by the voice talent of John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch and Sarah Silverman. I’m not sure how much it cost the studio to get characters from Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, Sonic, Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat and more, but I can feel the videogame lover inside me eating this one up. – Jordan R.

19. Not Fade Away (David Chase; Dec. 21st)

David Chase has not done a single thing since, five years ago, The Sopranos ended on that shot of Tony Soprano’s anxiety-stricken face. The wait has been long, and he’s back with a period piece about rock ‘n’ roll — not what you’d expect, but here we are. Six-and-a-half seasons of TV proved he’s got an unrequited ear for the subject; it’d be even better if his sharp dialogue and engaging plotting have stuck around. Let’s see just where this one goes. – Nick N.

18. Jack Reacher (Christopher McQuarrie; Dec. 21st)

Last year Tom Cruise delivered the best action film of the year with Ghotocol and now he returns a year later. Admittedly, Christopher McQuarrie‘s action vehicle does look like more of the throwback variety, as Cruise steps into the shoes of Jack Reacher, a former police man who is tasked with cleaning up a series of killings. While we’ve only been given a tease thus far, let’s hope McQuarrie combines some thrills with his knack for wit in the film also starring Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins and, yes, Werner Herzog as the villain. – Jordan R.

17. Les Miserables (Tom Hooper; Dec. 14th)

For his follow-up to The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper is taking on a classic, an adaptation of Les Miserables. One can’t imagine a finer cast for this material, with Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, and while I was lukewarm on his Best Picture winner, this is a genre that the stately director could easily knock out of the park. With the actual singing being captured on set, this should satisfy all your musical needs come December.  – Jordan R.

16. Promised Land (Gus van Sant; Dec. 28th)

Do not adjust your monitor. Yes, the above is a still from Gus van Sant‘s Good Will Hunting, but that’s only because we haven’t even had a first look at his re-team with Matt Damon, the drama Promised Land. Once set to be Damon’s directorial debut, Focus Features is busy getting this one ready for a last-minute awards season bow. Featuring a stellar cast of John Krasinski (who co-wrote with Damon), Scoot McNairyFrances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt and Hal Holbrook, I hand it over to this talented crew to make a fracking drama engaging. – Jordan R.

15. Flight (Robert Zemeckis; Nov. 2nd)

After rewatching several Tony Scott films in lieu of his confoundingly tragic passing, I was reminded not only of how accomplished most of his late-period movies were within the Hollywood system, but also of the sheer magnetism of Denzel Washington. Washington is one of the primetime movie-star personas currently working, and based on what we’ve seen of Flight so far, this looks like a tremendous opportunity for him to sink his no-nonsense teeth into a very deep, very serious character. Understandably, it’s Robert Zemeckis’ return to the live-action arena that has most people anticipating Flight, but the potential of Washington’s performance remains my chief source of promise. – Danny K.

14. The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev; Oct. 19th)

Premiering on the festival circuit last year, this small drama unfortunately went unseen by this site, making it high on our most-anticipated. With many of the major studio films delivering a predictable plot, I have no idea what to expect from this indie, which follows a trio of backpackers in Georgia (one being the always excellent Gael Garcia Bernal). Said to have stunning cinematography and atmosphere that seeps into your very skin, this is one trip I look forward to.  – Jordan R.

13. Life of Pi (Ang Lee; Nov. 21st)

Returning after the disappointing Taking Woodstock, Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee is set to sail the high seas with an adaptation of Yann Martel‘s hit novel Life of Pi. Following a boy (led by newcomer Suraj Sharma) and a tiger, Lee seems to be incorporating an impressive scope with a heartfelt story. Set to open the New York Film Festival, this looks to be one family film that can’t be missed. – Jordan R.

12. This Is 40 (Judd Apatow; Dec. 21st)

Making the “sort-of sequel” to a terrific film creates high expectations, so I can’t fault Judd Apatow for resting on his laurels. We’ve already become situated with and, hopefully, sympathetic to This is 40’s two protagonists by now — watching a movie at different points over the course of five years will do that — which, for some reason, only attracts me more and more to its supporting cast. (That is, Albert Brooks, Jason Segal, Lena Dunham, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, and even Megan Fox.) If Apatow can get half the humor and emotional truth that marked its sort-of predecessor, This is 40 should be something special. – Nick N.

11. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson; Dec. 14th)

Certainly the biggest blockbuster of the fall, The Hobbit tells the tale of Bilbo, Frodo’s cousin (played by Ian Holm in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, who will be sharing the role with lead actor Martin Freeman for this film), and will serve as the first part of a trilogy prequel to the wildly successful trio of films that made Peter Jackson a household name for moviegoers everywhere a decade ago. Not only has Jackson brought back much of the cast and crew from the original trilogy, but he has also been shooting in many of the New Zealand locations that enraptured us years ago. Though the movie has taken much longer than any of us expected, the behind-the-scenes web diaries Jackson has been cleverly releasing on facebook to help build up hype and keep the fans in the loop have looked nothing short of spectacular. It’s certainly time to go there and back again. – Winn P.

10. Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell; Nov. 21st)

After tackling both unpredictable comedy and hard-hitting drama in The Fighter, David O. Russell returns with this adaptation following a mental institution patient headed back home. With silly comedies like The Hangover and schlocky dramas like Limitless, Bradley Cooper has always been entertaining but this is a rare time when he’s given a meaty dramatic role. Alongside Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro, he certainly has the cast to back him up, and it should be fun to see if Chris Tucker still has it in his first non-Rush Hour role in fifteen years. – Jordan R.

9. The Impossible (Juan Antonio Bayona; Dec. 21st)

After displaying a superb knack for tension in The Orphanage, Juan Antonio Bayona is given a much larger playing field with this drama, following a family during the Southeast Asia 2004 tsunami. The theatrical trailer indicates a more sappy version then earlier looks provided, but regardless I’m looking forward to this Spanish director mixing grand emotion and taut thrills to hopefully great effect, with Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts leading. – Jordan R.

8. Argo (Ben Affleck; Oct. 12th)

As enthusiastic reviews surface out of the Telluride Film Festival, it’s hard not to be excited about Ben Affleck’s most recent directorial project. The first real hook is that the story is based on a true story in which six U.S. diplomats were rescued during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, in which the US and Canadian governments were able to convince the Iranian government that the hostages were actually members of a film crew. That crazy-but-true premise that combines both the CIA intrigue with Hollywood culture is carried by an impressive cast, including Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman. With a number of sources already predicting at least a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars for this one, mid-October just can’t seem to come fast enough. – Kristen C.

7. Skyfall (Sam Mendes; Nov. 9th)

There is a certain bias on my part, being in the minority who quite liked Quantum of Solace, but it’s becoming clear that Skyfall will be James Bond’s true return to form. Daniel Craig has already proven himself to be one of the best — or, in my humble opinion, the single finest — actors to ever portray Ian Fleming’s cold-hearted British agent, and I have little concern that Sam Mendes won’t bring this out even further. Our director makes this an all the more interesting prospect; his (sometimes painfully) obvious penchant for drama creates a certain imbalance in the Bond sphere that I can’t wait to see play out. And the movie has a big train! – Nick N.

6. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow; Dec. 19th)

The most secretive film of the year will finally be unveiled this fall, while likely under the highest scrutiny possible. Returning after her Oscar wins for The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow is tackling the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden and while we all know how the story played out, this one is said to have some details the world wasn’t previously privy to. Add in the dynamic cast of Parks & Rec star Chris Patt, Carlos‘ Edgar Ramirez, the fantastic up-and-comers Jessica Chastain and Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Jennifer Ehle, Kyle Chandler and we’ve got ourselves one promising war thriller. – Jordan R.

5. Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh; Oct. 12th)

Martin McDonagh made one of this millennium’s better debuts with In Bruges; here, he’s expanding the scope. On paper, Seven Psychopaths gives the impression of a bigger-scale version of that film, yet the previews hint at something with more ambition and depth. It’s not so silly to think the writer-director can pull it off, especially with a cast that includes Colin Farrell — from whom McDonagh already obtained career-best work — Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson. Heck, I’m already quoting the trailer’s line about cops. – Nick N.

4. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg; Nov. 9th)

Do I set a bad precedent by anticipating a lead performance more than the film which contains it? Well, yes, Daniel Day-Lewis’ turn as the country’s 16th (and probably greatest) President has the potential to trump everything else that stands around it — we’ve suspected this for some time. But let’s not discount the prospects of Spielberg finally going all the way back to the Civil War, nor should we ignore all that lies in Lincoln’s mammoth collection of supporting players. As we sit around and debate the merits of one current candidate over another, it might be for the best to look back at a time when the question of right and wrong was so much more clear. Maybe it says something that this comes out right after the election. – Nick N.

3. Looper (Rian Johnson; Sept. 28th)

With an official premiere in just a mere matter of days, the sci-fi genre seems to have a smart, riveting addition with the next film from Rian Johnson. Proving he knows his way behind both a pen and a camera and in both Brick and The Brothers Bloom, the director is using Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and his biggest budget yet to give us what many are calling his best work yet. While I can’t quite by into the early comparisons to Back to the Future and The Terminator, this feature is certainly one I’m dying to experience. – Jordan R.

2. Cloud Atlas (Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer; Oct. 26th)

Certainly the most ambitious film of the entire year, the jury is still out on whether or not the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer captured what was thought to be unfilmable with Cloud Atlas. Spanning six generations from the 1850s to a post-apocalyptic future, the story follows actors such as Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Keith David, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant all playing different characters. With the filmmakers saying they want Cloud Atlas to mark a return to the spectacle films of the 60s and 70s, this is a journey I couldn’t be more excited to go on with them. – Jordan R.

1. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino; Dec. 25th)

No, it’s not even close. Quentin Tarantino is following up what may very well be this writer’s favorite movie of the ‘00s — not that this creates any set of expectations — and will tackle a genre he’s flirted with for nearly a decade with some amazing people on his side. If that weren’t enough (but why isn’t it?) there’s more energy and wit in the non-contiguous footage shown than almost any other film I’ve seen in 2012 thus far. I’d say the helmer’s earned enough trust to assume he’ll carry it through. And let’s face it: The zoom-in reveal of Leonardo DiCaprio’s slave owner could place it at the top of this list from the start. – Nick N.

The Film Stage’s 2012 Fall Preview

20 Most-Anticipated Films: [#20-#16] [#15-11] [#10-6] [#5-1]
10 Best Films We’ve Seen: [#10-6] [#5-1]
10 Festival Titles We Hope Will Get Released: [#10-6] [#5-1]

What are you looking forward to most this fall?

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